By Amanda Tonoli
Negotiations for new teacher contracts are underway in Youngstown City Schools with CEO Krish Mohip holding all the chips.
“To just say one side has all the power, but we’re still going to go through the process, is like playing poker where the one guy has 100 chips and other guy has one,” said state Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, D-33rd.
Schiavoni is referring to the powers allotted to Mohip in House Bill 70.
HB 70, commonly referred to as the Youngstown Plan, was signed into law by Gov. John Kasich in July 2015. It enabled a state-appointed academic distress commission to hire Mohip to lead the district. The bill gives Mohip complete operational, managerial and instructional control.
Mohip wouldn’t comment specifically about negotiations, but he said the administration and YEA “are negotiating in good faith.”
“Even though the law [HB 70] doesn’t require that, we feel it’s best to talk through the issues and try to come to a compromise,” he said.
Specifically, after two years of Mohip running the district, he is allowed to alter collective-bargaining agreements if the district is still failing academically, said George Boas, Ohio Senate Democratic Caucus deputy chief of staff, who provided an interpretation of HB 70 to The Vindicator.
For 2016-17 city schools earned two Bs, one C, one D and 12 Fs on the Ohio Department of Education state report card.
For 2015-16 the district received one B, two Cs, one D and 12 Fs.
The state department of education declined to comment on the state of academics in city schools with regard to current negotiations and Mohip’s power.
“[Mohip] has certain management rights he can take,” acknowledged Larry Ellis, Youngstown Education Association president, who added teachers are not supportive of that scenario.
“It just seems like a blow to our teachers, but we have to have faith in the process,” the teachers’ union president said.
Schiavoni calls the new negotiating process one-sided.
“Seven years ago [legislators] tried to vote away collective bargaining with Senate Bill 5, and it was overwhelmingly rejected,” he said. “It seems to be the most fair process and I am hopeful we will work toward an agreed-upon resolution.”
Although negotiations have just begun, Ellis said hopes collective bargaining will be honored throughout.
The teachers’ current contract agreement was to expire Saturday. Ellis said the existing contract will continue until a new one is created.
Salaries for the approximately 400 teachers in Youngstown range from $30,483 for entry level to $69,275 for top scale.
Schiavoni said he’s glad both the administration and YEA are going through the process of negotiation.
“I just hope they can come to a resolution that gives the kids the best opportunity to succeed,” he said.
Ellis also said he hopes both sides can come to an agreement. “My hope is we get a fair agreement with both sides happy with and both sides honor[ing] the contract,” he said.
State Rep. Michele Lepore- Hagan of Youngstown, D-58th, said she’s hearing good things from the teachers’ union about the state of the negotiations.
“The union is confident they will have a contract and be able to work with administration and representative members and be able to let this develop,” she said.
But Lepore-Hagan is not without concern.
“My feelings have been the same about the bill (HB 70) since it started, but now things are really unfolding,” she said. “[HB 70] does give the CEO unilateral rights to violate labor laws.”
But Lepore-Hagan’s concern isn’t necessarily with Youngstown and HB 70 specifically in regard to labor laws, but the threat of charter schools.
“We just worry the other part of the bill is that it can be turned over to charter schools, and public schools close,” she said. “There is language in the bill designed to undermine collective bargaining and undermine public education. It’s coming out ... Every situation is different and every CEO is different. Ours is at least trying and saying no charters.”
Lorain City Schools is the only other Ohio district under HB 70.